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Great one! Hockey legend visits Coney Island - Brooklyn Paper

Great one! Hockey legend visits Coney Island

The iceman cometh: Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky cheered on a pick-up hockey game of Hurricane Sandy-impacted youth at Abe Stark Arena in Coney Island on Feb. 25.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Warm hearts are helping Sandy-impacted youth hockey players get back out on the ice.

TD Bank invited legendary center and one-time New York Ranger Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky to Abe Stark Arena in Coney Island to meet with dozens of young players from the Greater New York City Ice Hockey League — and to join in a ceremony donating $15,000 to replace equipment damaged or destroyed when the superstorm swamped the People’s Playground rink.

TD Bank spokesman Eric Springer said that his company decided to lend the youth league a helping hand after hearing from longtime business associates the Brooklyn Cyclones that the young players had lost tens of thousands of dollars in gear stored at Abe Stark during the storm.

“We always strive to help out the community and give back, and this was a way to do that,” said Springer.

So the financial institution brought Gretzky, another longtime business partner, down to Coney to give the kids some words of encouragement and oversee some pick-up hockey games — and, of course, to take pictures and sign autographs for his adoring fans.

“The kids were ecstatic, the parents were ecstatic — they got to meet one of the heroes of hockey, and he gave them some great advice about working hard to achieve their goals,” Springer said.

George Clark, the league’s director of fund-raising, said he was tremendously grateful for the bank’s aid. Clark said that more than 40 of the league’s 300-odd players lived in hard-hit areas of the city, and that the kids had to wait nearly a month to play while water and ocean muck were getting cleaned out of the rink. The ice in the barn is frozen again, but the arena is still without heat and running on temporary power.

“We’re back on our feet, getting on in the hockey business as normal, and that donation will go a long way in restoring the equipment we lost,” said Clark.

Clark added that Gretzky’s appearance made the event for his players.

“Everybody was super excited that he was in the building. Kids, parents, everyone had a huge smile on their face when he walked in, and he was great with the kids,” said Clark.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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